“I sure do like your shirt. Where did your mommy buy it?”

“At Old Lady.”

-my nephew, age 3

He meant Old Navy, of course. But is that how three year olds see the world? Separated into two categories: spry young peers and old ladies? (Mothers, teachers, shop attendants–all Old Ladies.)

When I was pregnant with my current three year old, I realized I was the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me. And then a horrifying realization dawned on me: I don’t remember my mother “young.” I don’t know if I considered her an “Old Lady,” but she certainly didn’t share the same category as my teenaged, blond babysitter. She was just “Mom.” My “Old Lady.” (For the record, strangers still comment today what a striking beauty my mother is.)

But is that how my children see me? As their Old Lady? Taking a good look at my hands right now, I can see the first signs of age spots and I’m still shy of 40. How’d that happen?

Yesterday I colored my hair. Nothing drastic, just a 27 shampoo-away-the-gray wee rinse. (Yes, I found a gray hair. Still not ready to talk about it.) But my five year old found the whole strong odor and latex gloves thing very off-putting.

“Why in the world are you doing that?” he asked, stopped dead in his tracks as he approached the bathroom doorway.

“I’m doing this to look pretty.” I responded.

He drank in the sight of the brown slime oozing around my scalp and the spattered mess in the sink. His look seemed to say “And you really think that will help your cause?”

I held his bewildered gaze for a minute, then brewing with righteous indignation said, “Well, it doesn’t matter if you think I’m pretty, as long as Dad thinks I’m pretty. And he does, okay?” Then I caught a glimpse of my image in the mirror. Okay, it was a pretty scary.

The fact of the matter is, I still feel twelve but I shop at “Old Lady.” I find myself looking for high-waisted jeans, cringing at heels, and buying make-up labeled “Age Defying.” I finally get why Fraulein Maria fell in love with that stodgy old Captain Von Trapp, something I could never wrapped my brain around when I was ten. I mortify my children when a 80?s power love ballad comes on the radio and it would be a crime not to sing along. Maybe I am getting old, but classics never die.

Yes, I had finally made my peace with being past my prime and getting older. I finally started to view my children’s “parting gifts” as wonderful battle scars and badges of courage. But then came Mother’s Day. Propped up on my fluffy white pillows, still bleary-eyed from the dawn’s early light, they each climbed up on my bed and handed me their homemade cards.

“I love you.”

“You’re the best.”

“You’re pretty.” they read.

With pillow case creases still imprinted across my mug, and not a stitch of Age Defying make-up on…my children made me feel like the most beautiful woman on earth.

That ought to wash away the grays for at least another year.